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Wheat That Springeth Green, J. F. Powers’s beautifully realized final work, is a comic foray into the commercialized wilderness of modern American life. Its hero, Joe Hackett, is a high-school track-star who sets out to be a saint. But seminary life and priestly apprenticeship soon damp his ardor, and by the time he has been given a parish of his own he has traded in his hairshirt for the consolations of baseball and beer. Meanwhile Joe’s higher-ups are pressing for an increase in profits from the collection plate, while suburban Inglenook’s biggest business wants to launch its new line of missiles with a blessing, and not so far away, in Vietnam, a war is going on. Joe wants to duck and cover, but in the end, almost in spite of himself, he is condemned to do something right.
A virtuoso of the American language, J.F. Powers had a perfect ear for the telling cliche and a unfailing eye for the kitsch, whether material or moral, that clutters up our lives. This funny and very moving novel about the making and the remaking of a priest in a world of discount marts and financial drives is one of his finest achievements.